Belle De Graf and Her Cookbook

Belle De Graf
Source: Mrs. De Graf’s Cook Book (1922)

Each year I buy several cookbooks off eBay for whatever year is currently exactly a hundred years ago. This year one of the 1922 books I bought was Mrs. De Graf’s Cook Book. One of the front pages has a photo of the author, Belle De Graf. The photo is glued into the book, and beneath it is the printed signature of the author. The opposite page contained information about her.

Description Belle De Graf
Source: Mrs. De Graf’s Cook Book (1922)

Intrigued, I googled Belle De Graf, and a bio of her popped up on a site called Lovely Antique Ladies.  She lived in San Francisco, and married at 18. A few years later her husband went to prison at San Quentin for seven years for grand larceny. The 1900 census lists her as a widow – even though she had a husband in prison. It doesn’t sound like they ever really got back together, and by 1916 she was teaching cooking classes for the Sperry Flour Company. In the 1920 census she is listed as the Director of Domestic Science at Sperry Flour.

It’s fascinating how Belle De Graf  was so resilient and somehow managed to navigate her way through a difficult situation to become a successful cookbook author and Director of Domestic Science.

22 thoughts on “Belle De Graf and Her Cookbook

  1. You find the most interesting stories! Perhaps her hubby died in prison? As you noted, she sounds like a strong woman, able to bounce back from life’s curve balls. Her recipes may be good, too.

    1. Her bio on the other website suggested that her husband got out of prison, but who knows. I always admire people who bounce back from life’s curve balls.

      1. He did. Interestingly, on their marriage license, it was his signature that had the flourish in the De Graf, although he spelled it with 2 fs at the time and some records show it as De Graaf originally. Her B in Belle was quite different than the latter B (which is not unusual–my signature looks nothing like it did when I was in my 20s), and she dropped the second f. They did ultimately divorce and he remarried but she apparently did not. Fascinating story!

        1. Wow, you were able to find a lot of information. Maybe she learned sometime about how a signature could convey confidance from her husband – even if they eventually divorced. I find it really interesting how people could change the spelling of their name so easily a hundred years ago – while today names can’t be easily changed. I have a friend who quit going by her middle name because online tools never let her use a first inital followed by a middle name.

    1. It’s awesome that you’re writing a cookbook. It’s such a wonderful thing to share favorite recipes. I’m guessing that someone will find it a hundred years in the future. Back when I was posting my grandmother’s diary entries that she wrote when she was a teen-ager, I often thought that she never would have guessed that she’d someday have a grandduaguter who’d find and share her diary. I hope that she would have been pleased.

  2. I like the way you use the current year and find a cookbook exactly a hundred years ago. That’s a dandy of an idea.
    Belle De Graf must’ve been a strong willed and a sensible woman. Good for her. I look forward to seeing what recipes she penned.

    1. During the early years of this blog, I didn’t always use recipes that were exactly a hundred years old, and considered “close” to be good enough. Someone commented on that – and I got to thinking that it would be fun to use recipes that were exactly a hundred years old and have done that ever since.

  3. So interesting . . .both to see how you scout recipes and stories for the present year, and who/what you turn up! I love how you help to champion strong women, more often than not marginalized by men writing history. Starting with Helena, your grandmother 🙂 Belle is a fine addition! (And what a lovely, strong name! Too bad “Mrs” was the way she is identified in her book title. Marital status just “had to” loom over personal creativity and achievement for far too many years.)

    1. I like how you looped this post back to the diary days. You’re right. My grandmother was also a strong woman, I guess that I do like to champion them. Back in the era when Belle was writing, she may have thought that the “Mrs.” made her sound more authoratative – though it’s too bad that she (or her publishers) didn’t call just her book Belle DeGraf’s Cook Book.

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